The Judgment by Fire in 2 Peter 3


A recent topic has come up in my recent studies, both from S. Lewis Johnson’s 2 Peter series, and Robert D. Culver’s Daniel and the Latter Days.  Culver’s Appendix 1 “The Time and Extent of the Coming World Dissolution”  considers two issues in 2 Peter 3:1-10.  First, is Peter referring to what happens at Christ’s Return, or to what occurs at the end of the thousand year millennial era?  Second: the extent of the fire and destruction: complete annihilation of the Earth and a completely new Earth, or a renovation?

In the 2 Peter series Dr. Johnson shared reasons in support of the idea that the text is referring to Christ’s return, and in characteristic fashion also provided the reasons for it being after the 1000 years.  Culver treats this question (and the first answer) in more depth, referencing several of the same points.  For instance:

  1. The Old Testament prophets speak of a judgment by fire, that immediately precedes the beginning of the future Messianic kingdom.  (Joel 2:30-31; Malachi 3:1-3, 4:1)
  2. The Old Testament repeatedly states that disturbances in the material heavens, of a type identical with those described by Peter, shall transpire immediately before the establishment of the kingdom.  (Isaiah 34:4, 13:13, 51:6; Haggai 2:6-7; Joel 3:16)  Culver further notes the citation of Haggai 2:6-7 in Hebrews 12:26 – “yet once more” – not twice – “will I make to tremble not the earth only but also the heaven.”
  3. The New Testament writers likewise affirm a judgment of fire associated with the Second Advent.  (2 Thess. 1:7-8; Revelation 16:8-9)
  4. The coming kingdom shall occupy a regenerated earth from its beginning; therefore the purifying effects of this prophetic dissolution must be at the beginning, rather than at the close of the Millennium. (Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22-24)
  5. The immediate context of 2 Peter 3:10 is the Second Coming itself, not something to take place 1000 years later.  Peter addresses the argument of the skeptics, “Where is the promise of His coming?” and speaks of Christ’s coming.
  6. A perpetual and continuous kingdom such as is repeatedly promised demands that no such destruction as is often urged be placed at the end of the Millennium to interrupt the continuity of that kingdom.  This is another good point from Culver’s book: the Kingdom of God is not limited to the first 1000 years. The first 1000 years is the period when Satan is bound before his final destruction, when fallen people in non-glorified bodies will be around, and the time between the two resurrections.  But the Kingdom itself continues into the Eternal State of Revelation 21.  Regarding the perpetuity of the kingdom, reference Luke 1:32-33; Daniel 7:18, 2:44, 7:14.
  7.  In 2 Peter 3, Christians are exhorted to godly living, based on this predicted dissolution, as though this is something they should expect to see if they live to the end of the present age – rather than it being something at least 1000 years away.  (Reference also the similar moral lesson in Mark 13:32-37; Matthew 24:42-51; and Luke 21:25-26 – the Olivet Discourse.)

The Nature and Extent of the Cosmic Changes

Culver is another of a few teachers who suggest a renovation of the Earth instead of annihilation and complete remaking of the earth.  Dr. Vlach has also addressed this issue at his blog, along with the related idea of the New Creation model.  S. Lewis Johnson in his Revelation series also referenced this idea:

He describes the makeup of the new creation in verse 1, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth:  for the first heaven and the first earth passed away; and there is no longer any sea.”  Not “another earth and another heaven,” but “a new earth and a new heaven.”  In fact, the adjective that he uses, the adjective “new” here, one of several adjectives for new, particularly one of the two primary ones is a word that means something like fresh, a fresh heavens and a fresh earth.  And the sense that one gets from it is that there is a correspondence between the new heavens and the new earth and the present heavens and the present earth.  But the new one is a fresh one, a correspondence that is suggested by other things in the word of God.

In my own regular Bible readings, when I come to 2 Peter 3 I have noticed also, that Peter makes comparison to the first judgment and change to the Earth, the flood:  “the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.”  Yet the actual Earth is the same as then, the same actual planet — with plenty of the scars, the evidences, of that great deluge and what great destruction happened then. Then the comparison to “the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire” suggests a parallel event: not annihilation but a remodeling, a renewal, of the same actual planet.

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  1. Robyn Wallis
    September 16, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    Thanks Lynda, I have this printed out to use in my study of the subject. You have provided excellent references for me.

    • September 16, 2013 at 7:15 pm

      Glad it’s helpful, Robyn. Yes, it’s a good study.

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